Marion McGovern, counselor, Grover Washington Middle School, Olney:
There is a lot of competition for what schools they get into. We try to get them to be as realistic as possible.
We start in 6th grade. Our mantra is, “Seventh grade is the grade that counts.” It’s like being a junior in high school. This is when you want to get the best grades, highest test scores, and make sure get you get to school on time.
We try to be as honest as possible with the kids. For the skills centers, it’s about grades and attendance; they generally do not look at test scores. But students need to know that [f
or skills centers and citywide admission schools] there is a lottery. They may not get picked even though they qualify.
Julie Feldman, counselor, McCall Elementary, Society Hill:
We tell them to spend a lot of time looking. Go to the high school fair. Think hard about what your interests are and use high school to explore those interests.
We have students pick a reach school, a couple of schools we know they are able to get into successfully, and one we know they will get into easily. It’s like applying to college.
If students’ school records are not as pretty as they’d like, we have them write a letter about what happened, what they are doing about it, and what they expect to give to the school in addition to what they expect the school to give them. We get them letters of recommendation, and we work on interviewing skills.
Maxine Coker, counselor, Henry Elementary, Mount Airy:
We try to guide students to get the information they need to make informed choices. If they are into a certain extracurricular activity or sport, they need to investigate whether the high schools they are applying to have those things. What languages do they teach? Do they have AP courses?
If students want vocational programs, they must investigate those programs. Sometimes we have students who want to apply to Saul [an agricultural high school], but they say they don’t like animals or plants. Is that a good fit?
Heather Rodgers, counselor, Woodrow Wilson Middle School, Northeast Phila.:
I would tell parents to contact your counselor in the beginning of the [8th gra
de] year. The kids need their parents’ support and help through this; parents should call to find out when the school’s informational session will be. We send a letter home, but sometimes they can get overwhelmed with all the paperwork we send home.
There are some well-known schools, but students may not know that there are other schools they can go to with similar programs.
We tell students to be mindful of where they live and how long a commute they would have.